Look to Joey Wentz for an example of dominating the strike zone.
Every team believes in the importance of pitchers throwing strikes (and hitters swinging at strikes). The Detroit Tigers have made the concept their top priority under president of baseball operations Scott Harris, but early in the season, the starting pitchers haven’t executed.
Wentz pitched into the sixth inning and filled up the strike zone by putting 12 of 23 hitters into 0-2 counts. The 25-year-old delivered his best start of the season, only for a pair of relievers to waste his dominant performance.
Nick Maton saved the day with a walk-off three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning. The Tigers won, 7-5, in extra innings against the San Francisco Giants in Friday’s series opener at Comerica Park.
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The Tigers (4-9) entered the three-game series averaging three runs per game. The offense, led by Javier Báez, supported Wentz and the bullpen with four runs through five innings, which seemed like enough.
Everything changed in the eighth inning, when Tigers manager A.J. Hinch swapped right-handed relievers. He replaced Garrett Hill with Mason Englert, and J.D. Davis clobbered Englert’s first pitch — a 91.4 mph fastball — for a three-run home run to even the score at four runs apiece.
Hill walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth.
Englert stayed in the game, pitched through the 10th inning and threw a whopping 46 pitches. He kept the Giants from scoring in the ninth and 10th frames, allowing just one run on one hit and one walk with five strikeouts in 2⅔ innings.
In the bottom of the 10th, the Tigers started with Báez on second base as the free runner in extra innings. Facing right-hander Camilo Doval, Akil Baddoo — pinch-hitting for Eric Haase — dropped down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner to third base. Spencer Torkelson struck out swinging, and Miguel Cabrera grounded out to send it to 11.
Right-handed reliever, José Cisnero, surrendered back-to-back hits and the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th inning. But Maton delivered by cranking Doval’s 3-0 fastball at the top of the strike zone for a walk-off homer.
Báez returned to the lineup — serving as the cleanup hitter — roughly 24 hours after Hinch benched him for mental mistakes in the second inning Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays. He atoned for his mistakes with a redemption game. He looked like a completely different player.
He went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two walks and did not strike out.
A blooper for Báez
The Tigers fell behind early but tied the game in the second inning.
Báez, of course, opened the second inning with a leadoff bloop single (67.3 mph exit velocity) on a two-strike slider below the strike zone. He advanced to third base on Haase’s double (64.6 mph exit velocity) and scored on Torkelson’s sacrifice fly to left field.
In the third inning, Riley Greene — who leads the Tigers with 18 strikeouts in 13 games — drilled a slider from Giants left-hander Sean Manaea. He hit a triple to left-center field and scored Matt Vierling for a 2-1 advantage.
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The Tigers increased their lead to 4-1 in the fifth inning when Báez stepped to the plate with two runners on base —Vierling hit a double and Greene worked a walk — and two outs against right-handed reliever Jakob Junis.
Báez scored them both.
He crushed a slider over the heart of the plate with a 109.5 mph exit velocity into left field. Haase kept the inning rolling with a single, advancing Báez to third base, but Torkelson struck out swinging.
Cabrera finished 1-for-4 with three strikeouts.
Wentz gets going
In his third start, Wentz allowed one run on six hits and one walk with seven strikeouts over 5⅔ innings. The first batter he faced, Thairo Estrada, drove an eighth-pitch fastball for a solo home run to center field.
After that, Wentz was lights-out.
He didn’t get a lot of quick outs on contact, but he worked ahead by putting the first nine hitters (and 12 hitters total) into 0-2 counts. He generated 10 whiffs, plus 20 called strikes, while using all four pitches.
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Wentz faced a big moment in the top of the fourth inning.
The Tigers had just taken a 2-1 lead, but the first two Giants reached safely on singles from Mike Yastrzemski and Davis. In a tough situation, Wentz didn’t back down from the challenge. He retired the next three batters — including striking out David Villar after falling behind 3-1 in the count — to escape the jam.
Wentz recorded the first two outs, sandwiched between his only walk, in the sixth inning before left-hander Tyler Alexander got the final out. Alexander returned to the mound for a scoreless seventh inning.
Contact Evan Petzold at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers walk-off San Francisco, 7-5 (11), on Nick Maton homer